In Search of The Elusive Fuji-San
After a quiet and peaceful night sleeping at an Onsen Ryokan in Hakone (箱根), we left early the next morning in search of the elusive Fuji-san (富士山), otherwise more commonly known as Mount Fuji. The plan was to have the coach bring us up to the Kawaguchiko (河口湖) 5th Station for a closer view of the active stratovolcano, also the highest mountain in Japan. And if luck would have it, we might even get to walk a bit of the Yoshida Trail. Our tour leader did however pre-empt us that the trail might be closed considering that winter just passed and it might still be unsafe for trekking up the mountain.
To get to the Kawaguchiko 5th Station, we passed by Lake Yamanaka (山中湖) and came across one of the legendary Swan-shaped pleasure boats. It was an overcast, otherwise good day with great weather. In other words, nightmarish conditions for me, the amateurish DSLR photographer.
Of the Fuji Five Lakes (富士五湖), Lake Yamanaka is the largest. And on a clear, cloudless day it offers a splendid view of magnificent Fuji-san. Except that it was a cloudful day when we visited. Not one to be daunted by a tiny, little failure I tried shooting Fuji-san again and again that day whenever I chanced upon her. Which was very often, of course, since we were after all in Hakone.
Take #1 was taken on the moving coach while we were in the vicinity of Lake Yamanaka. No chance of gazing upon the full beauty of Fuji-san becaue the summit was completely enveloped by clouds. Never mind though: the day was still young and I should have plentiful opportunities to shoot her again, hopefully in better weather conditions.
Take #2 was taken on the moving coach again, when we were nearing Kawaguchiko 5th Station. Risked getting lectured by walking to the front of the coach for this shot. But I think it was worth it. Probably the best shot I had of Fuji-san. The summit was still partially hidden. However there was just a tinge of it peeking through the clouds.
Take #3 was taken a few metres down from the previous shot. A closer shot but basically the conditions didn’t change. I was hopeful that we might see the summit as we ascended slowly to Kawaguchiko 5th Station.
But alas, Take #4 taken at Kawaguchiko 5th Station featured the same patch of clouds in the way of us and the summit. She was so near, yet so far. Well at least she lives up to her reputation of being elusive and out of reach. She is consistent in this way. 😆
There was no one else about, and absolutely nothing to do at Kawaguchiko 5th Station. We stopped and alighted the coach for some photo-taking but 1) it was cold being at higher altitude (2,300 m, to be precise) that had many of our tour mates went running to the coach in less than 10 minutes and 2) there were only so many photographs we could take. I reckon we were on our way again in less than 15 minutes. Which posed a real challenge to our tour leader since we were not supposed to leave till much later. Why, you may ask. Because our next destination was where we were supposed to have our lunch, and we were obviously way too early for that.
It helped that we were travelling with a group of very considerate and understanding tour mates. With her explanation, we were all agreeable to spending a little more time at Owakudani (大涌谷). It sure beat hanging around Kawaguchiko 5th Station doing nothing in particular. Apart from having a manageable trail to explore, Owakudani (which is essentially a volcanic valley with sulphur vents and hot springs) is also famous for its black eggs (黒卵) and scenic view of Fuji-san on clear days. As already established earlier, it was not a clear day so we had no luck of seeing the whole of Fuji-san.
We walked on the Owakudani Trail a little but I was hasty to leave the area because the pungent smell of sulphur did not sit well with me. Instead the mum and I went to hang around the visitor’s centre because the restaurant where we were supposed to have our lunch was just adjacent to the centre, leaving the little sis to explore more of the trail by herself.
It was a hearty lunch we had. Some Nabe (鍋) it was but I can’t tell exactly what it was, now. It was in fact one of the most delectable meals of the whole trip. But what we were really impressed with was not the lunch itself, but the packs of strawberries on sale just outside the restaurant. The strawberries we get to purchase at reasonable prices in Singapore (hence eliminating the Japanese strawberries sold at Japanese supermarkets) are hardly tasty, and rarely sweet. The strawberries we ate at Owakudani were anything but. Big, juicy and also unbelievably sweet. I thought I tasted some really great strawberries at the Keukenhof near Amsterdam in 2005, but these just beat them hands down. I was never quite a fan of strawberries but after that experience, I absolutely love strawberries. They were that life-changing.
While we were at Owakudani, we of course must embark on the Lake Ashi Sightseeing Boat a.k.a. the Pirate Boat. Having no hopes of getting a better view of Fuji-san, we concentrated on enjoying other beautiful scenery. And spotted this beautiful red Torii (鳥居) of Hakone Shrine (箱根神社) at the foot of Mount Hakone. While possibly not quite as spectacular as the ‘floating’ Torii of Itsukushima Shrine (厳島神社), this Torii is magnificent and mysterious in its own way.
It was a long day, but was most certainly not over for us. Yet. Because it was time for us to experience for ourselves the real speed of Japan’s legendary Shinkansen (新幹線), or Bullet Trains that could operate at a maximum speed of 320 km/h. It was not completely necessary for us to board the Shinkansen to get to Osaka because our coach could traverse the same distance by road to meet up with us on the other side although it took much longer. It was a novel experience and really just for thrill of the speed. Except that we didn’t really feel the speed at all. The train was that stable on the move. I was duly impressed!